Is Kings County Using Amtrak to Undermine HSR?

May 9th, 2012 | Posted by

As a passenger rail advocate, I want to see passenger rail serve as many places in California as possible. That includes Kings County. I continue to be utterly baffled by local officials’ opposition to a high speed rail stop for Hanford/Visalia, as it would do wonders for the region’s economy by connecting it to jobs and capital on the coasts. It would also help provide an affordable travel option for county residents.

Adding to the bafflement is the fact that Kings County officials are now screaming about saving Amtrak service in their county – even though the same county officials have been working to kill the high speed rail project:

Local officials raised concerns Tuesday with California High-Speed Rail Authority Board members about the impact of the project on Amtrak and agriculture. It was the fourth such meeting, part of a process intended to create more cooperation….

“I want to see the [Amtrak] service saved, and will do everything I can to make that happen,” said Dan Richard, Authority board chairman.

Officials representing Corcoran, including County Supervisor Richard Valle and Corcoran City Manager Kindon Meik, made it clear how important they think the station is. Valle presented a video in which Corcoran residents and business owners talked about the negative impact if the station went away.

It’s a social justice issue for economically disadvantaged residents in Corcoran who have no other means of transportation, Meik said.

“Amtrak is a crucial part of our community,” he said. “It’s likely that if Amtrak goes away, then our city-owned buses will also go away.”

I’m definitely sympathetic to these concerns, and applaud CHSRA board chair Dan Richard for working with Kings County officials to protect Amtrak service. It’s the right thing for him to be doing and the right thing for Kings County.

But I still can’t understand why Kings County wants Amtrak but is also trying to kill better, faster high speed rail service for their county. One has to ask this question: are they using Amtrak as an argument against high speed rail? Is their newfound concern for passenger rail service in the form of the San Joaquins an effort to preserve the status quo at the expense of HSR?

All the arguments that local officials are using for Amtrak also apply to high speed rail. If you support one, it just makes sense that you’d also support the other.

I’d be curious to hear how Kings County officials explain away this glaring discrepancy.

  1. JJJ
    May 9th, 2012 at 20:52
    #1

    I don’t think it is a discrepancy.

    You can be opposed to building a highway while still support maintaining local roads.

    Or you can oppose building a light rail line but support funding a bus line.

    is it the same? No, but you get my point.

    Part of it is the fear of change, but part of it may actually be genuine concern about fiscal and environmental (noise) impacts.

    Of course, one way to back themselves up would be throwing funding at the San Joaquin. How much money has Kings paid for it, outside of station renovations? Any service funding? ANy building of 2nd tracks?

  2. Elizabeth
    May 9th, 2012 at 20:59
    #2

    Robert,

    They are not making up this Amtrak thing. About 20% of all San Joaquin ridership is to / from Hanford, way more than one would expect given the population. It really is the only affordable non-car alternative for Hanfordians (or whatever is the right term), as they don’t even have Greyhound which goes down the 99 corridor.

    Anyway, at this point, it is getting a little late. The time to consider the impact of HSR on Amtrak and local trains was a long time ago – with the stations and routing they have chosen there is basically no way to keep it alive.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    That’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m sure if Hanford wants to come up with the money Amtrak would be more than willing to continue the service.

    Spokker Reply:

    Or raise fares.

    But it begs the question of which service is more deserving of taxpayer money, California HSR or Amtrak California. HSR has big capital costs but it *might* be profitable. Amtrak California is relatively inexpensive when it comes to capital costs, but we’ll always be looking at a farebox recovery that is below 100%. The Amtrak systems sees ~70% farebox recovery. The San Joaquin has a farebox recovery of 43% as of FY 2007/2008.

    As far as Hanford is concerned, though, they should support Amtrak. They will see no direct benefit from HSR service.

    Peter Reply:

    Well, Hanford would benefit if the Kings-Tulare station was built.

    NorCalRailFan Reply:

    The farebox recovery for the San Joaquins has been inching upward and was at 56% for FY 10/11. There still seeing record riders and I would not be surprised if it was past 60% at the end of this FY.

    Jon Reply:

    It’s valid to ask why Hanford should get state-subsidized Amtrak rail service when Visalia has to make do with Greyhound. Greyhound doesn’t serve Hanford because it knows it can’t compete with Amtrak, if Amtrak abandoned service on the BNSF corridor Greyhound would fill the gap for travelers who could not afford a HSR ticket.

    Personally I’m in favor of state-subsidized rail service to pretty much everywhere in California, but that would require to make a bigger political and financial commitment to rail than is likely to happen any time soon. With constrained budgets resources should be allocated where they will benefit the most people. On the other hand, the state may decide that the financial price of continuing service to these towns is less than the political cost of abandoning service.

    Spokker Reply:

    Greyhound isn’t exactly unsubsidized. There’s the whole thing with public roads and a woefully inadequate gas tax, and Greyhound has asked for subsidies in the past. I don’t know how much and whether or not they got succeeded.

    joe Reply:

    Jon I agree that rail can be subsidized but the ball is rolling in another direction.

    Kings County has to accept the consequences of their economic arguments against HSR – and I wish CARRD would admit some responsibility for this problem.

    The new rail system has to be full cost recovery. Opponents use that requirement as a hammer.

    Amtrack service would steal away ridership by competing for riders from a our full cost recovery system and offer a subsidized system. Apparently government subsidy and money losing rail is okay after all. Poor Handford loses a subsidized service and gets a service intended to be fare box recovery – right CARRD?

    What is responsible rail? I thought CV would not use HSR but they really needs Amtrack. It’s flip flop time.

    The arguments by HSR opponents about cost and ridership – well eliminating redundant Amtrack increases HSR ridership. Consolidation improves HSR and eliminates money losing Amtrack.

    How many teachers will we save with full fare box recovery with HSR? That argument is bogus but if made against HSR it should hold for conventional rail. The real objection is NIMBYism and not fiscal. Hanford is another, contradictory reason for fiscal scolds to oppose HSR.

    The arguments against HSR undermine public transportation – the demand public transportation be full cost recovery will be applied to Caltrain.

    VBobier Reply:

    Well then If Nimbys want Passenger Rail to be full cost recovery, then Interstate/US Highways should too, no more, no less… I can see cost recovery of operations of either Rail or Highways, but not Capital costs as that is just not done for either…

    joe Reply:

    Anyway, at this point, it is getting a little late. The time to consider the impact of HSR on Amtrak and local trains was a long time ago – with the stations and routing they have chosen there is basically no way to keep it alive.

    What about the impact of harping on HSR being 100% cost recovery and how subsidizing a rail system takes money away from public services. Why is Amtrack magically absolved of this requirement?

    I wish I lived a consequent free life but CARRD’s objections to HSR and their fiscal demands and scolding HSR about fare box recovery and the social-economic arguments about HSR use in the CV are bunk. CARRD is as much to blame as the HSR system for demanding rules be applied that undermine subsidies to Amtrack.

    Here’s a another group of NIMBYs too clever for their own good.
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/05/08/BAFP1OF38Q.DTL

    Reality Check Reply:

    @joe, what’s this “Amtrack” you keep talking about?

    joe Reply:

    I have Dan Quale class spelling skills.
    P o t a t o e

    VBobier Reply:

    And both are WRONG… ;p

    lex luther Reply:

    you didnt even spell Quayle correct

    joe Reply:

    Really?

    joe Reply:

    FYI
    Maybe you are too young to remember.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wdqbi66oNuI

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Liz,

    You gotta cut this out. The current strategy from the Authority makes the most sense and here’s why: the bypass is the easiest to build to ensure HSR thruway service. However, because Amtrak California services are likely going to use Authority assets for some time, it’s not as if they can’t connect the current BNSF line as a spur for those non-express HSR trains.

    Spokker Reply:

    Did you not get the memo? Alon says that calling her Liz is sexist.

    VBobier Reply:

    What We can’t call ELizabeth Liz? OMG…

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Why can’t I call you “Lizzie Dickhead”? And McNamara “Betsy Dimwit”? Just to pick some arbitrary syllables out of a hat, just as you do. No disrespect intended!

    joe Reply:

    Right on Dick.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Short version: why does nobody ever call Robert Bob?

    Long version: Elizabeth doesn’t go by Liz here (I have no idea about her personal life; all I can tell you is that she signs her emails to me Elizabeth). Some people do, and that’s fine – for example, Tom here goes by Tom rather than Thomas. Usually, using a different name, either a diminutive or the more formal version (e.g. calling Clem Clement, or calling anyone Mr./Ms. LastName), is an expression of contempt – an inappropriate diminutive is an expression of belittling, and an inappropriate formality is an expression of distance.

    Spokker Reply:

    See what I mean?

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    You must not know many women named Elizabeth. The last time I used Ms. Alexis’ full name, she thought I was attacking her. So I used “Liz” as a way to be less aggressive sounding.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I know some. Some go by Liz, some by Betsy, some by Elizabeth. It depends.

    Where did Elizabeth complain when you called her by her full name?

    joe Reply:

    Good point Al.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    I heard his view on the issue is evolving…

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, that’s a big part of the argument for putting in a Kings / Tulare County station, that the current Kings / Tulare County station in Hanford draws well relative to the San Joaquin.

    Of course, that is not an argument for keeping the existing Amtrak service going through downtown Hanford, but rather for putting a station at a location as convenient for Kings / Tulare County as practicable, which is the proposed Hanford station on the West Hanford bypass.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    (actually the east hanford location is more convenient)

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Sorry, that should have been “the proposed Hanford Station on the East Hanford bypass”. The West Hanford Station bypass does not have the convenience of avoiding driving into Hanford from Tulare or Visalia. And from the base, a shuttle bus could run straight down Grangeville Blvd to route 43.

    datacruncher Reply:

    The traffic sources would be interesting to understand for the Hanford station.

    I wonder how much of that Hanford traffic is Thruway passengers from Visalia (which is the larger city).

    I’ve also wondered how much of that Hanford passenger traffic is school children trips. Hanford has long been promoted in the Kids n’ Trains program as a field trip for elementary kids from Fresno and Bakersfield. All three cities are in the same travel zone so it makes it an easy and cheap outing.

    In some articles it has also appeared that a large proportion of the Corcoran traffic is simply using the San Joaquin as a transit alternative to get to the county seat in Hanford.
    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/04/30/v-print/147165/small-california-towns-along-amtrak.html

  3. Reality Check
    May 10th, 2012 at 01:42
    #3

    O/T: Italo high-speed train offers touch of Ferrari

    With its sleek, aerodynamic design, upscale interiors and blazing fast speeds, NTV’s new Italo train was designed by train maker Alstom, and one look at it and easy to see the influence of one of NTV’s owners, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, Ferrari’s chairman.

    It’s no surprise then that the new Italo train is built on the same technology behind the world’s fastest train.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    hot! lets buy this one.

  4. joe
    May 10th, 2012 at 07:01
    #4

    http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/may-10-1869-first-transcontinental-railroad-completed/
    On May 10, 1869, a golden spike was driven at Promontory, Utah, signaling the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States.
    ….
    In 1862, Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act, which provided land and financing to the Central Pacific and a second company, the Union Pacific, to construct a Western line that would connect with the existing Eastern lines.

    An April 2011 Times editorial said, “The agreement between Congress and the White House to virtually eliminate money for high-speed rail is harebrained. France, China, Brazil, even Russia, understand that high-speed rail is central to future development. Not Washington.” The editorial argued for financing to improve the profitable Amtrak Northeast Corridor, and the construction of a line between San Francisco and San Diego.
    Why do think that high-speed rail is such a contentious topic in the United States? What do you think should be done to increase ridership throughout the country? Do you agree with the editorial that high-speed rail is central to future development? Why or why not? In your opinion, how should the U.S. government approach the financing of railways?

    VBobier Reply:

    I think It comes down to, It’s an idea from a bunch of “Fureigners” that needs to be smashed and labeled as Forbidden Technology as Oil is inexhaustible and to build HSR is heresy…

  5. joe
    May 10th, 2012 at 07:12
    #5

    Merced CA newspaper endorsed HSR May 7th.

    Our View: Rail system must proceed — carefully

    There is no doubt that completing a high-speed rail system in California will be a lengthy process, and supporters will need to keep their focus on that goal to be successful. Critics are attempting to pick apart the project at every turn, but our leaders must do what’s best for the state in the long run, and not give in to those who have been using the project to push a political agenda.

    It also will help the San Joaquin Valley’s sagging economy. Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea said the construction and operation of the high-speed system “will be an economic game-changer” for Fresno and the Valley.

    http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2012/05/07/2336364/rail-system-must-proceed-carefully.html#storylink=cpy

    2) Merced is one of the top 10 cities with decreasing property values i

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/09/cities-where-home-prices-_n_1504009.html?ref=business

    Cities Where Home Prices Are Collapsing is based on Fiserv Case-Shiller’s forecast of changes in home prices from the fourth quarter of 2011 to the fourth quarter of 2012. 24/7 Wall St. also included each metropolitan area’s February 2012 unemployment rate and change in home prices from the fourth quarter of 2010 to the fourth quarter of 2011 — both of which were provided by Fiserv Case-Shiller.
    6. Merced, California
    Expected price change: -7.9% Unemployment rate: 17.5% (3rd highest) Change in home prices (2010 Q4 to 2011 Q4): -1.9%

    datacruncher Reply:

    To be accurate, the Merced newspaper reprinted that editorial. It previously appeared in (and most likely was written by) the Fresno Bee. Note it talks about benefits to “Fresno and the Valley” instead of “Merced and the Valley”.
    http://www.fresnobee.com/2012/05/04/2825677/editorial-high-speed-rail-will.html

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    merced unemployment is actually going while the rest of the states is going down.

  6. jim
    May 10th, 2012 at 08:29
    #6

    Elizabeth has it right.

    Hanford, right now, has very good service. There are six trains a day (maybe going to be seven?) between Bakersfield and Stockton. Hanford is right in the middle, an hour and a half from Bakersfield and less than three hours from Stockton ( and Modesto, Merced, Fresno). The station is easily accessible in downtown and fares are heavily subsidized.

    What does HSR offer it? HSR doesn’t offer to “connect[] it to jobs and capital on the coasts.” HSR offers, at best, a beetfield station, which most of the trains won’t stop at.

    There’s no contradiction between Hanford wanting Amtrak service to continue and at the same time opposing HSR.

    Peter Reply:

    So run an Amtrak California Thruway bus that stops at the downtown Hanford station. And at Corcoran. And Wasco. And Shafter. And Bakersfield. It would probably even be faster than the train.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You’re right that HSR is offering at best a beet field station (and higher fares), but even if most trains skip it, the frequency will be better than today. Even 1 tph would be far better than what Hanford gets today.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    As Alon notes, the number of trains that do stop at a station is what determines the quality of the service, not the number of trains that skip it. The revised business plan timetable has 2tph at the Kings / Tulare Counties station.

    While the proposed station is more convenient for much of the population of Kings and Tulare counties, it does indeed require a five or ten minute bus ride to get from the center of Hanford to that HSR station. But its not really a beet field station ~ its right on the edge of town.

    jim Reply:

    2tph peak, 1 off-peak. Which translates to a bit over twice the number of trains will stop outside town that stop in downtown today. I wouldn’t take that trade.

    Change creates losers as well as winners. California HSR will create many more winners than losers. But there’s no point in insisting that the losers are really winners. They aren’t. Hanford loses by this change.

    blankslate Reply:

    6 or 7 trains a day that take 3 hours to get to Stockton or 1.5 to Bakersfield, vs. ~15/day that take under 2 hours to either SF or LA? And because they have to drive a few more minutes to the station, you declare unequivocally that “Hanford loses”? I’m not following…

    Andy M. Reply:

    It depends. Those “~15/day that take under 2 hours to either SF or LA” would only materailize once the system was fully built out. The loss of a local station would take effect at a much earlier point. Traffic and loyalty that has taken many years to be built up would be sacrificed over a temporary disimprovement. Traffic once lost is very har to recover. Maybe the intermediate development phases need some reviewing.

    blankslate Reply:

    Those … would only materailize once the system was fully built out. The loss of a local station would take effect at a much earlier point.

    When would it take effect?

    I guess I would be an advocate for continuing Amtrak San Joaquin service until such a time that the new system provides equal or better train frequencies and trip times.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The movement of the San Joaquin onto the HSR corridor happens once the Initial Construction Segment is finished from Merced to Bakersfield. If Hanford was serious about retaining a local station, they would push for either a commitment to a Hanford HSR station or else a junction with the current BNSF corridor north and south of Hanford for the San Joaquin to use.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    2 peak, 1 off-peak is about 20 trains per day, which is 3 times today’s frequency. And the speed is much better.

    The distance is an issue, yes. The question is how many people in Hanford don’t own a car, and couldn’t get to the station by means of a timed bus connection.

    The cost is a much bigger issue, but I’m pretty sure Kings County doesn’t want to come out and say out loud, “We like our cheap subsidized Amtrak service, please don’t replace it with an unsubsidized high-speed service.”

    blankslate Reply:

    I couldn’t get 2010 ACS data on Hanford specifically, but in Kings County the no car rate is 5% (about 2,000 households total in the county). What percentage of those live within walking distance of the current Hanford train station? Probably not very many.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Suggesting that the intersection of routes 43 and 198 is a more use to more residents in Kings and Tulare Counties, and for those without cars, it would be straightforward to ensure that there is a connection to the bus route that runs out to the HSR station, for any of the potential station locations still in play.

    jim Reply:

    It isn’t “distance is an issue.” It’s that convenience is an issue. I live in Alexandria VA. I visit New York frequently. There are 8 trains per day from Alexandria to New York. I could go into Washington. There are twenty-odd Regionals from Washington to New York. They’re faster, too, since the trains from Alexandria have to change locomotives in Washington. But I can walk to the Alexandria station. So I take a train (eight is enough to choose from) from Alexandria. And so, I see in the waiting room, do many of my neighbours.

    Nor is it an issue of carlessness. Make it easy not to use a car and people won’t. Insist that they use their car to get to the station and people won’t bother to switch from their car; they’ll drive all the way to their ultimate destination.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Sure, but Alexandria has way better local transit than Hanford will ever have and is a lot more walkable; there are more people within walking distance, and more people nearby who do not have a car.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    First, 2tph peak, 1tph offpeak is more than 12 trains per day, so that is more than twice as many trains per day, stopping three miles from the current Amtrak station. Indeed, for a number of Hanford residents, a station on route 43 is just as convenient as a station in the middle of town.

    And its unquestionably more convenient for Viaslia and Tulare residents.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    But they don’t want it downtown and they don’t want it uptown. Nor do they want it outside of town, They don’t want it anywhere in their county. Just west of Visalia is very convenient for people in Visalia and Tulare….

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    Very Dr Suess….

    Matthew B Reply:

    Indeed, I expect the contributors to the discussions on this blog would also fight over whether to butter ones bread butter side up or butter side down.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    You butter it along the crust of course.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    I’ve learned a lot from Clem, including the fact that service levels don’t depend on how often a train stops at your station. It depends on how often a train that is going to your destination stops at your station.

    In the proposed phase 1 blended HSR schedule, in the off-peak hours, none of the trains that stop in Hanford would also stop in Fresno or Bakersfield. During peak hours, one train (the one that originates in Merced) would. It is unclear how many “Peak hours” there are – operations plan is inconsistent with ridership.

    This would mean same or worse service levels with faster travel times but much more expensive ($38 vs $5).

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’m not going to endorse the skip-stop plan, but Hanford would gain from being connected to LA. Some Hanford residents would lose from the (totally unnecessary and frankly unlikely) lack of Fresno and Bakersfield access; some Hanford residents would gain from being able to get to LA.

    Rick Rong Reply:

    You cannot call lack of Fresno and Bakersfield access “’TOTALLY’ unnecessary” and at the same time suggest that some Hanford residents would lose as a result of that lack of access. At least not if the utility of the proposed service is measured by its impact on potential train riders.

    As for suggesting that lack of Fresno and Bakersfield access is “frankly ‘UNLIKELY’,” that suggests that at least selected portions of the proposed phase 1 blended HSR schedule are to be ignored. If so, then what useful purpose is served by proposing such a schedule in the first place?

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    HSR isn’t in the business of providing a local commuter service. If Hanford and other Central Valley cities want to provide such a service to their residents, then form a transit district or Joint-Powers Board to run local train (or preferably bus) service.

    joe Reply:

    Gilroy has VTA service and a 8.25% sales tax, Hanford in Kings Co is 7.25%. It’s a regressive tax – I’d prefer a different option but there are options.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Okay, let me clarify: what is unlikely and unnecessary is the skip-stop schedule, in which Hanford has minimal Fresno and Bako access. More likely, and more rationally, they’ll have local trains making all stops, and once Bay-to-Basin opens express trains skipping all stops between the Bay and the Basin.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Big cities get big in part because there are a lot of amenities that people value. Here’s a simple example from the central coast area. A few women in Paso Robles were discussing that they love living in Paso but one drawback is the lack of shopping. They could go to the Macy’s up the road in Salinas but if they need to shop they really want a good selection and so every several weeks they carpool up to San Jose Valley Fair where they get a full set of choices including Bloomingdales. LA is a similar distance but San Jose works best for them so they go regularly.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, if Hanford was being proactive instead of reactionary, their focus would be on how to provide effective access to a potential Kings/Tulare County HSR station and certain Fresno HSR station, for all residents of Kings and Tulare Counties.

    If CARRD really was about “doing it right” in the sense of integrated transport systems rather than about nitpicking the CHSRA and letting all flaws of arguments of opponents slide, it would advocate adoption of infrastructure that permits the San Joaquin to serve Hanford, either via the current Amtrak station or via the proposed East Hanford Bypass station location, and the start of planning for the regional transport connection to Fresno, including Fresno HSR, which will be required when the HSR begins operation.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    Hanford should be learning from Gilroy and looking into the best way to make use of hsr. Although really Visalia is the place to put it. Visalia has 124k verus hanfords 54k

    And Tulare county has 442k pop. to Kings’ 152k

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, but the corridor runs through Kings County. So the most convenient option to Visalia is to bypass Hanford on the eastern bypass alignment rather than the western, and put the station north and east of the intersection of routes 43 and 198.

    mike Reply:

    Hanford has an infinite number of departures per day as long as you’re willing to walk. Sure, it’s slower than driving or taking the train, but who cares about speed or travel time? Certainly not the good residents of Hanford.

    Andy M. Reply:

    True, beetlefield stations aren’t good for small towns. That is, unless they are properly connected. I’m not sure of the precise geography here, but why wouldn’t a connecting bus be a possibility, or maybe even a light rail shuttle, a bit like the Denton A-train?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Its 3 miles from the Amtrak Station. When all of their buses meet at the Amtrak station every half hour, one of them needs to run out directly east until it gets to the eastern end of town, and across the road is the HSR station. Its substantially closer to downtown Hanford than Madera Station is to downtown Madera.

    Google Maps Hanford, CA

  7. trentbridge
    May 10th, 2012 at 08:52
    #7

    Amtrak? General Election 2008: Kings County: McCain 19,710 votes Obama 14,747
    If they are so gung-ho about Amtrak why do they persist in voting for Republicans who, led by Mitt Romney, want to shut down Amtrak?

    jim Reply:

    Amtrak-California, not Amtrak tout court. Amtrak-California is today partly funded by California and come FY14 will be almost wholly funded by it. If the federal Amtrak appropriation is zeroed out, Amtrak-California would continue to operate.

    Andy M. Reply:

    But would Amtrak California survive if Amtrak “tout court” were to be closed down? What synergy effects from other Amtrak services would be lost? Surely there is a reason the State of California contracts with inefficient old Amtrak rather than just with anybody who can run a train on the cheap. Would that reason still be given if the rest of Amtrak outside the NEC were to be closed down?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    What synergy effects from other Amtrak services would be lost?

    What synergy effects?

    jim Reply:

    There are some. The most important is probably the LA maintenance yard which services both Surfliners and the three long distance trains that terminate in LA. Parts and labor for a particular car or locomotive get charged to whichever service they’re used on. But the overhead for the yard — keeping the lights on and mechanics available — gets split between the long distance trains (paid essentially by the federal taxpayer) and the California trains (paid, at least from FY14, by Caltrans). If the long distance trains are cancelled, then the entire cost will be borne by Caltrans. But this is not enough to prompt Caltrans to kill the service.

    Caltrans could if it wanted contract with some other train operator. There might be some difficulty finding enough rolling stock, though. If it did, all that would be affected is the name of the service. The San Joaquins would still roll through Hanford.

    Peter Reply:

    You really think they differentiate between the two? Both are subsidized public transportation systems, equal in evil to a libertarian society.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    If the federal Amtrak appropriation is zeroed out, Amtrak-California would continue to operate.

    No.

    If you notice, the desire to create the Northern California Unified Service would likely put more rail service in the hands of contractors as opposed to Amtrak (as a contractor). This is no accident, as the more federal funding that is lost, the higher rates Amtrak would have to charge states to break even. On high traffic routes this might be possible, but on the San Joaquin, no way.

    No one seems to get this: as currently configured, Amtrak California will not survive. That is the whole reason for the alignment that was chosen for high speed rail. It keeps most of the San Joaquin’s utility intact, but it increases its financial viability by offering high speed service that runs from SF to LA.

    Amtrak itself probably can survive losing state-sponsored routes by consolidating its long distance routes and then asking for a small federal subsidy akin to what the airlines do. Acela, of course, would have to break even.

    Hanford cast its lot a long time ago…nothing the Authority does can change it.

  8. Alon Levy
    May 10th, 2012 at 09:21
    #8

    Robert, I think it’s a lot less nefarious than you make it out to be. Towns that are bypassed by railroads, or by roads, shrink economically*. We’ve seen this effect over and over going back to when cutoffs and direct lines were first built in the 19th century. Hanford does not want to be left out of this; realistically, what will probably happen is that HSR will be built over Hanford’s objections, and then development in that part of the CV will focus on Bakersfield and Fresno, bypassing the smaller cities.

    The question of course is why Kings County is not trying to get HSR to build a station. But it’s a common feature of opposition. Wanting a station would be logical if Kings County thought HSR would be a statewide success that could deprive it of development. If Kings County says “We think it’s a bad idea, but we still want a station,” either the HSRA would focus on the negative and tell it “Go to hell” (or “cough up tons of money for your station”), or it would focus on the positive and whitewash its opposition.

    It’s pretty much impossible to oppose a project and then propose to make it better, the way government in the US works. If you offer your ideas, then you’re a participating citizen and then the government will smile and say it did due outreach and build what it wants. The only way to avoid having people think you support the project is to just say no.

    * Yes, I know that in other comments I’ve criticized the notion that HSR increases economic development. It does not contradict; HSR clearly moves development from cities it serves to cities it bypasses, and the question is whether there’s a net positive regional effect.

  9. Clem
    May 10th, 2012 at 10:03
    #9

    The advent of the automobile sure created a lot of concerns about the continued viability of the horse-drawn carriage. The horse-drawn carriage was once a vital element of the social and economic fabric of Hanford. It’s truly shameful that it’s gone today. Almost as shameful as retiring Amtrak’s San Joaquin service when HSR service begins.

    Who knew that faster and more frequent service (modulo a shuttle bus connection) would be so terribly bad for Hanford?

  10. Roger Christensen
    May 10th, 2012 at 10:30
    #10

    It’s interesting that all these tea party and traditional Republicans in Kings County who are now champions of Amtrak have a presidential candidate who states his first task as President will be to defund it.

    I’m wondering if the upcoming round of May HSR open houses will give us more information on Hanford West vs Hanford East alignments. Particularly ridership differences.

    Couldn’t Amtrak run a Bakersfield-Merced local twice a day in the future?

    Peter Reply:

    Or a bus.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    The ability to run “scenic route trains” is all contingent on revenue. If CAHSR makes money hand over fist, it’s not a far cry to see that money be reinvested in money-losing legacy routes. But if cities and counties drag the process out and sue and … and… costs go up again, then that just decreases the likelihood that HSR will have enough revenue after capital costs are paid to “give something back”. This seems to be a message that no one is getting.

  11. California Taxpayer
    May 10th, 2012 at 12:16
    #11

    Is it even a done deal that tulare-kings is going to get a station?
    Its likely due to politics, that amtrak local san joqauin service would continue to serve communities for the foreseeable future. The locals will demand it.

    Of course a lot will also depend on the price structures. Do we have a number as far as how much higher by percentage an hsr ticket will be compard to a local amtrak ticket.

    The low fare from merced to fresno right now is 13 dollars. how much will merced to fresno be on hsr? The majority of exiting intra valley traffic will take the slower trip with the lower fare. The students traveling to the bay and socal will also opt for the slower trip and lower fare. Unless the fare difference is very small.

    Since low income and students make up the majority of traffic in the valley, hsr will either need to keep the fares low ( by selling enough first class tickets at a high enough price to subsidize the rest of the train) or will need to count on enticing an entirely new market to take the train. or both.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    For Fresno – Hanford, tickets go from $5 to $38

    joe Reply:

    Horrible.

    Does CARRD endorse subsidizing HSR or just Amtrak

    BruceMcF Reply:

    No, its not a done deal. Its an option in the Alignment Alternatives process.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Friday afternoon fun
    http://149.136.20.80/rail/dor/assets/File/April_26.2012/2012-0420-0421-TRAIN_715_Survey.pdf

    jim Reply:

    The Stockton to Redding numbers are surprising.

    Peter Reply:

    So… continuing all the current bus services as buses would be completely appropriate. Or just run a single-car DMU if you insist on a train.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    I think the numbers might be for the bus with a final destination of X. (e.g. people on redding bus might get off before that). See map routes http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/BlobServer?blobcol=urldata&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobkey=id&blobwhere=1249234583405&blobheader=application%2Fpdf&blobheadername1=Content-disposition&blobheadervalue1=attachment;filename=Amtrak_Amtrak_California-Trains-Thruways-2008.pdf

    Peter Reply:

    Concur.

  12. Reality Check
    May 10th, 2012 at 12:56
    #12

    O/T: Railroads Save $775 Million on Crash-Avoidance Systems

    Railroads won’t have to add so-called positive train control on lines that don’t carry passengers or toxic materials, Cass Sunstein, administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said today.

  13. Eric M
    May 10th, 2012 at 13:04
    #13
  14. Reality Check
    May 10th, 2012 at 13:24
    #14

    O/T: Group aims to raise $10 billion for high-speed rail in Texas

    rail advocates say a proposal to build a high-speed line connecting Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston may happen a lot sooner than many residents think — possibly by 2020.

    A group led by Central Japan Railway Co. that includes notable Texans such as former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels is seeking roughly $10 billion in private investment. Officials with that group, who plan to brief the Regional Transportation Council today in Arlington, say they will not ask for federal or state funding.

    J. Wong Reply:

    At ~240 miles, it’s about 2/3 of the distance between LA and SF but they’re going to build it for 1/7 of the cost. Of course, there’s absolutely no mountain crossings involved.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Since when have “mountain crossings” been necessary for to make controlling consultant PBQD’s profits stratospheric?

    $2 billion worth of “mountains” in San Francisco.
    $2 billion worth of “mountains” in Millbrae.
    $4 billion worth of “mountains” in San José, plus $8 billion of BART Himalayas.

    Fresno, Bakersfield, Merced, Palmdale? Tens of thousands of feet of elevation change going one side of town to the other!

    Joe Reply:

    Geology of SF is exactly the same as Dallas.

    Plus the 10 billion estimate is sound. So critics claim estimates are optimistic but this TX project is sound.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    But what about the sudden onset orogeny noted by our other noted geologist (and noted geographer) J. Wong?

    You guys are just going to have to fight it out as headliners at the GSA this year. Hottest panel: “Anomalous San Franciscan Assemblage diatomaceous chert bedding: new evidence of trans-cratonal transport from the Oauchita Foldbelt?”

    BruceMcF Reply:

    They described bullet trains as going over 200mph, but did not give any specifics of the proposed line. Without a description of the alignment and expected trip time, its not clear how much of the alignment would actually be Express HSR corridor.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    All of it, it’s planned for 90 minute travel time and the group is working with JR Central.

  15. Alan
    May 10th, 2012 at 13:36
    #15

    One detail that hasn’t yet been mentioned is that some of the San Joaquin trains serve Sacramento as their north terminal, not the Bay Area. There’s going to be a continued need for service at least between Merced and Sacto, and that’s going to be even more important between the time that HSR service to LA begins, and the HSR link to Sacramento is finished. I don’t see how eliminating the San Joaquins altogether, and just putting on a couple of Thruway buses from Merced to Sacramento would be adequate, particularly once connecting passengers from LA become a factor.

    Then there’s also the matter of service between Contra Costa County points and the south. The San Joaquins could easily be considered as a feeder to HSR at Merced.

    So if it’s determined that service needs to be maintained to Sacramento and Contra Costa, it may still work financially to continue those trains to Bakersfield, providing local service along the HSR corridor. Keep in mind that Amtrak didn’t discontinue their slower-speed NEC services when the Acelas were introduced. Both have their place. The difference in California is that the local and regional services would be on different tracks.

    And if gas prices go through the roof, as many people predict, there may be enough business to go around for both Amtrak and HSR.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    that is the likely scenario. Plans are actually to increase san joaquin service not get rid of it.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Uh yeah right. What’s going to happen is that the San Joaquin Valley Railroad Commission (which is controlled by BART, like CCJPA) is going to slowly merge ACE, the San Joaquins, and Capitol Corridor into one.

    It’s not a conspiracy: Union Pacific wants to avoid mixing with passenger traffic as much as possible, and BART’s grade separation achieves that marvelously, combined with a few legacy rail upgrades for ACapitolCorriquins… to shephard travelers quickly from San Jose, Livemore and Sacramento to Merced….

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    So we’ll get a new agency called the ABCCSJ. and someone in there needs to get a train or two north to yuba-sutter Chico and Redding. including an airport (SMF) adjacent stop. SMF has a new airtrain that could connect to a rail line operating via what I think is the old western pacfic line

    Peter Reply:

    Where do you see anything about an airtrain system?

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    sac

    Peter Reply:

    The People Mover apparently only connects Terminal B (with check-in, etc) with Concourse B (where you actually board the plane). It’s not like the usual people movers connecting multiple terminals.

    In the meantime, why not simply fund the Green Line light rail extension already in planning?

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    I’m thinking in terms of smf is the airport that serves the sac to redding marking being located near the 5 and 99 and north of town, and a rail link redding-red bluff-chico-marysville/yuba city SMF would be useful to sac valley residents. since the rail line is nearby – rather than having to go south to downtown then north again.

    Peter Reply:

    Well, the “market” you’re referring to barely rates an Amtrak Thruway bus, much less a people-mover. Have the bus stop at the airport, and save yourself a few hundred million.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    no doubt the people mover will expand as the airport grows though.

    Peter Reply:

    “no doubt” – well, at least that’s certain…

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    and this new unified service… would likely continue to run san joaquin service down to bakersfield via the current route because the push to form a jpb for the valley is to ensure local control and representation. Meaning that the people in kern, kings, madera cos, will demand they not lose their local service.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    they’ll get over it when they find out how much it’s gonna cost.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    maybe maybe not. if the state continues to support the service, the counties add a 1/4 cent sales tax or similar they might prefer to keep it. It will depend on the local politics.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    If the HSR is approved so that Kings County is deal with a fait accompli, it could well decide that throwing in with Visalia is more appealing than throwing in with Wasco. A local rail service to Fresno as the price for losing the existing Hanford/Fresno connection on the San Joaquin could be a very good trade.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Keep in mind that Amtrak didn’t discontinue their slower-speed NEC services when the Acelas were introduced.

    Only because the Acelas are branded as business-class. JNR retired the legacy-express Kodama the day the Tokaido Shinkansen opened, and SNCF retired the legacy-express Mistral shortly after the TGV opened.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    If they had enough Acelas to use up the slots over the CT bridges, wouldn’t they just run Acelas and differentiate the classes by stopping pattern?

    jim Reply:

    The difference in fares between the Acelas and Regionals is HUGE. 500% in some cases. There’s clear price discrimination going on and I very much doubt that Amtrak wants to jeopardize that.

    Matthew B Reply:

    I’m not sure how it’s “price discrimination” when both fares are listed when you search for available trains on the Amtrak webpage. It’s discriminating by train, not by customer. There may not be perfect market competition, but there are buses or flights that many passengers can take instead. Amtrak therefore has to compete on schedule and amenities. One service is more expensive, but that’s not price discrimination according to standard definitions.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Tiers of service for which customers on different parts of the demand curve sort themselves out certainly can be third degree price discrimination.

    Peter Reply:

    Ummm, again, different costs for different levels of service is not discrimination.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It is when the levels of service are distinguished in brand more than in quality. It’s similar to how some software shops offer home and professional versions of their products, differing minimally so that corporations will buy the more expensive version.

    Marc Reply:

    Acela is marketed to those who are not price sensitive. Amtrak’s price discrimination is based primarily on whether one buys a coach, business, or 1st class seat. A business class seat between, say, Boston and DC costs about the same whether one takes a regional or Acela, but there are no coach seats on Acela. As for being “stuck” on a regional, the fastest time between Boston and DC on Acela is 6:30, on a regional it is 7:30. The difference is time is pretty much due to the differing numbers of stops.

    I travel between Boston and DC periodically when I’m back east visiting relatives, and I now avoid flying if there is a reasonable alternative. I usually take a regional as I’m not willing to pay twice the price to save an hour on a 7 hour trip, it’s easier to get tickets, and there are always interesting people whom one would never encounter on Acela…

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, if there was sufficient Acela rolling stock to use up the slots available, there would be Acela cars with coach seats that would be used on the “regional” services.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Keep in mind that Amtrak didn’t discontinue their slower-speed NEC services when the Acelas were introduced.

    That was Amtrak’s medium range plan but the money never arrived to replace Amfleets with Acela cars.
    The 7 million people a year who use the Regionals are stuck on Amfleets hauled by AEM7s and HHP8s.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_busiest_Amtrak_stations

    Jon Reply:

    No one has proposed discontinuing the San Joaquins north of Merced. The plan is that once the HSR IOS opens, San Joaquins from Oakland and Sacramento will terminate at Merced and passengers will transfer to HSR.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    But south of Hanford, the stations through to Bakersfield are Corcoran and Wasco … if there’s a Kings / Tulare County station on the eastern edge of Hanford at the intersection of route 43 and route 198, that’s 3 miles from the Amtrak station, and 16 miles to Corcoran on a straight shot down 43.

    A local service Hanford / Fresno / Madera would make more sense, provided it had a platform transfer with the HSR corridor. It could, for instance, share Hanford & Fresno HSR, leave the HSR corridor for a Madera downtown terminal station and leave the HSR corridor at hanford HSR to run on the rail alignment through to Visalia and possibly the abandoned alignment from Vasalia down to Tulare.

  16. Peter Baldo
    May 11th, 2012 at 06:00
    #16

    There’s more of a case to be made for using the BNSF single-track through the central valley exclusively for freight, now that a parallel dedicated double-track passenger line is being built. The effort going into saving the downtown Hanford Amtrak station could be better spent developing a better regional bus system in the south San Joaquin Valley.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Exactly.

  17. California Taxpayer
    May 12th, 2012 at 21:41
    #17

    Hmm this is from four years ago, but there’s several things in here Ive never heard before. Like the porterville service, wheeler ridge, and visalia. So its possible that as hsr takes over the direct spine portion, what will happen to san joaquins is that they will branch out to service additional communities not yet served. More places could see rail service not fewer places

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